Beware Gilbert’s Cult of Behavior By Any Name

It’s Not All About Learning – It’s All About Performance

In August of 1979, on my first day on the my first job out of college, I was given Tom Gilbert‘s book Human Competence (1978). My 2 co-workers were originally from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Detroit where they had worked with Geary Rummler’s brother, Rick.

Geary Rummler had been a business partner of Gilbert (at Praxis) and The Blues (as they called it) had operated as a “proving ground” for many of the ideas and methods that Rummler & Gilbert were experimenting with, as they (along with dozens of others) were advancing beyond Programmed Instruction into Performance Improvement – looking beyond Instruction – but including Instruction – to affect Performance in the Workplace.

One part of Gilbert’s book talked about “The Cult of Behavior” – Performance Improvement: Tom Gilbert replaced what he called “the cult of behavior” with a focus on valuable accomplishments produced by behavior, a major contribution that launched a seismic shift for those who followed. 

Since 1979 I’ve seen many of the cousins of The Cult of Behavior – fads and shiny objects – in the Instructional biz. They come in many sizes, shapes and labels – but they are all a distraction from terminal performance requirements “back-on-the-job” for the learners.

They all fall very short of developing Performance Competence – which I define as “The ability to Perform Tasks to Produce Outputs to Stakeholder Requirements” – as they don’t go that last mile (so to speak) to take the Learner from Topics with Face Validity to a focus on the “How Tos” of Tasks & Outputs with Performance Validity.

They force Learners to go back to their jobs – from Formal Learning to Informal Learning & Social Learning – to figure out on their own exactly how to apply what they learned in their authentic Task Performance.

Formal Learning is a Misnomer at best, and a case of Bait & Switch at worst – promising something it never quite delivers on.

Most Formal Learning is actually just a precursor to Informal & Social Learning – and while that’s always true – it’s a matter of degree. Good Instruction prepares the Learner to go back to the job with some (albeit not a perfect) level of Performance Competence.

They won’t show up back “on-the-job” from any Instruction/ Training/ Learning/ Learning Experiences as Master Performers who know and can do it all – but they should have the basics of authentic Task Performance – and be ready to continue their Climb Up the Learning & Performance Curves with experience on the Job and from additional Instruction (via Job Aids and/or Training) as their Training & Development Path initially laid out – or was amended to reflect any changes in need as they came up.

And quite simply that requires a Focus on Performance – Tasks that produce Outputs that meet Stakeholder Requirements.

And THAT takes Analysis.

I realize I was very luck to get oriented on Day 1 to the performance-based approaches to ISD (Instructional Systems Design) of Rummler & Gilbert (especially Rummler’s approach to Performance Analysis) and then to be able to work with Geary Rummler in my 2nd job at Motorola for 18 months starting in 1981.

While I was spending 2 days in Tucson with Geary to review a draft of my 1999 book, lean-ISD – where I attributed my approach to Performance Analysis within my 4-part Instructional Analysis methods to him – I asked him how in the heck I’d ever be able to repay him.

He turned to me from writing on his whiteboard, saying, “You can’t,” and then resumed writing.

After a pregnant pause, he stopped writing on his whiteboard, and said, “You’ll have to do what I had to do with my mentors. I couldn’t pay them back either. You’ll have to pay it forward.”

That was so “NSPI” – where I had learned from others, the gurus and unsung heroes of the “Performance Improvement Crowd” starting in 1979 – from all their sharing so freely. I had already been doing that, but I promised to redouble my efforts.

So that’s what I’m up to, here in the 4th Quarter of my career.

And I share my stories and my perspectives and my approaches so that you to might start adopting and adapting what makes sense in your context, and also, start paying it forward with others.

That’s what I did – or tried to always do.

Adopt, Adapt, Attribute.

Carry on.


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